Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Batman, Inc #10

In what is perhaps the most significant event of Grant Morrison's long run on Batman, Damian Wayne was killed by his brother/clone in Batman, Inc v2 #8. This was in many ways foretold, not the least of which that he had appeared to die in his fourth appearance and Morrison said later that he intended for Damian to die then. Now, more than sixty issues later into Morrison's mega-epic, that death has taken place for real, but rather than serving as the climax of the story, it comes with five issues to go, which leaves a mystery: What sort of story is Morrison telling? What is the intended payoff?

After an issue largely dedicated to grieving and the follow-up battle between Batman and his allies and the Heretic, we now see the sides prepare for another battle. Of course, Batman will have his retribution. Of course he will dismantle Talia's threat and leave Gotham safe. But something bigger is coming.

#10 is full of action and twists, with ten scenes in only twice that many pages. That starts with the fold-out cover that shows what the publicly-released cover does not: In his commitment to winning this war, Batman willingly becomes a man-bat, disfiguring himself to gain the power to physically defeat the Heretic and Talia's army of man-bats. Inside the issue, this scene comes last, after we see Kirk Langstrom working on an antidote that will surely set Batman back to normal when his victory is complete. We also see Batman use an experimental exo-skeleton which had proven dangerous and the return of Sivana's photonic crystal from Inc v1 #1 which will also power him in the coming battle, perhaps giving him the power of invisibility.

Talia's cool and collected facade beging to crack in this issue. She seems to be in control when she orders Gotham's mayor to declare Batman a fugitive, and when she uses control over the Heretic's nervous system to stop him from commiting mutiny against her. But she's frequently at a disadvantage. We learn that she did not plan on Damian's death, and in a rage she orders the brutal murder of many of her underlings. A visit to her father proves disturbing as he hints at one forgotten factor that is certain to lead to her defeat. As he teases her with this knowledge, we see on a chessboard, a dark knight knocking off the red queen, reprising the red-and-black game theme from earlier in Morrison's Batman work, with meaning all too obvious as Talia wears red throughout this issue awaiting her battle with the Dark Knight. Later, she's disturbed to see Bruce's new look. Having used her man-bats to defeat Bruce twice before, she knows that she's lost her tactical advantage on him.

In fact, she may have lost this war before it began. She may not even be the main villain. Earlier, we saw the Hood, representing Spyral, take Jason Todd hostage. Now, as the Knight and Ranger arrive to rescue him, we learn that the evil headmistress operation in the UK (raided by Stephanie Brown, who no longer exists in the DCnU) was never really serving Talia in the first place. The Hood's earlier declaration of Batman, Incorporated being a failure was not a statement of victory but of resignation. Spyral is aligned against Leviathan, but we have yet to learn why he cold-cocked Jason Todd and tried to force his cooperation instead of asking for it.

And this leads to the most significant part of the issue, its beginning. Batman visits Michael Lane to recruit him, and while doing so, works to piece together the vision of the future we saw in #5, while Lane recites lines from Nostradamus and bemoans his own fate ultimately to serve evil, while Batman taps him to play a significant role for good. This opening scene mentions the Devil and the Joker (at least, the word "joker") and indicates a bigger picture than we've yet had come into focus.

The simplest way this story could end would be that Batman would defeat Talia and the Heretic in a battle and send them off into incarceration, with Talia shaking her fist at the air and bemoaning that she underestimated him. There's too much story coming for that to be all that happens. We have three more issues (one more than the original plan) and numerous hints of a more complex arrangement than we, or Talia, or even Bruce realized. The portentous prophecies in the scene with Batman and Lane have to come true. The vision of Gotham's apocalypse has to fall into place. What R'as knows and Talia does not has to be revealed. Why Spyral is working against Talia but also against Batman has to be explained. The battle that this story requires may be a small part of the three issues left in Morrison's epic.

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